Governments, leaders and people in the West don’t seem to have woken up to the fact that terrorism works.
Basically, terrorism is about promoting fear, the clue is in the word “terror”. And although we carry on as normal after each ‘terror attack’ the sense of insecurity is heightened for some of us and is used by those in power to strengthen their positions and to limit our freedoms; terrorism works.
What is surely in the minds of at least some terrorist leaders and their supporters is that they might actually win. For many months it looked as if ISIS, the so-called Islamic state, the Caliphate; could establish itself in the Middle East. Ultimately, for the moment at least, it has failed. But there is a concrete example in their midst that terrorism works. Indeed it is the irritant that drives many of them. Perceived by some, with justification, as a European colonial project, Israel was birthed in terrorism and is maintained by terrorism. We may not like it, but it’s the truth, the historical evidence exists. Others have written extensively on Israel’s links to covert weapons programs and IDF involvement in surveillance and civilian control in many countries with poor human rights records. Israel is a key exporter of civilian control methods; methods that have been practised upon the Palestinians.
From the moment of its declaration as a state Zionist Israel had a vested interest in sustaining the idea that they are under ‘existential threat’. Acceptance of that one-sided story by the USA in particular and the West in general has enabled Zionist Israel to take control of most of what was ‘Mandate Palestine’, extending their ‘homeland’ at the expense of the indigenous Arab community. That ‘existential threat’ effectively terrorises the Israeli-Jewish community at the same time as terrorising the Palestinians.
That basic self-understanding has served to prevent Israel obtaining what it claimed to desire; peace with the Arab world. At various points during its 71 years of existence there have been opportunities for peace. The common wisdom is that it is always the Arabs who have walked away, Israel claims it has no ‘partner for peace’. To the unbiased observer however, the evidence points in the opposite direction: It is Israel that is the serial offender in avoiding peace. That begs a question,’why?’. There are a number of answers both spiritual and human. At the human level Zionism has believed from the first that Jews cannot coexist with other races. This view is still firmly held despite the overwhelming evidence that there is no such thing as a ‘Jewish race’; ethnically, Israeli Jews are a diverse as are most European nations.
Israel’s terrorism has succeeded, so far, because of massive support from the USA. A major element of that support, especially politically, is the ‘Religious Right’. The identification of evangelical Christianity with right wing extremism is worse than sad because Christians worldwide are identified by their host communitie as holding those same views. Those views, mainly emanating from US, are understood as full of hate towards people of other faiths and other races. It is understood that they support Israel and other oppressive regimes, especially those that promote a different faith or a different version of the faith. And because of that idenification Christians in parts of the Islamic world are persecuted. Christians for example in Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Palestine, suffer because of the pronouncements of ‘evangelical’ church leaders in America.
That should not matter; persecution is promised and should be expected. But it does matter because those ‘Western Christian’ pronouncements made by supposedly evangelical Christians are wrong. These are not minor issues. If Christian brothers and sisters are being hurt because of what we say and dowe have a responsibility to examine our words and deeds. Jesus tells us that we will be persecuted for the truth, therefore deceit should have no place in Christian life. And Political/governmental necessity is not a justification for the Christian. It is ironic that some pro Israel Christians criticise the church’s historic compromises with empire (e.g. Constantine and Roman Catholicism) while justifying their own compromises.
And again, none of this should matter, just so long as gospel truth is the issue. If our words and deeds honour the truth revealed in the good news about Jesus, then we must “grin and bear it”, or to put it in Christian terms, trust in our God who will bring justice: which, by the way, is the consistent message of the prophets and the Psalmists. But the words and deeds of many who claim to be evangelical do not harmonise with God’s good news in Jesus.
Despite their claims, the logic of pro-Israel Christians is of a dual covenant: the old one they claim is still valid for Jews, despite the repeated assertions by the prophets that it is broken and a new one is both needed and promised. The New Covenant in Jesus blood is apparently reserved in heaven for non-Jews. Jews will — at very long last — get their nation state and rule the world, ‘earthly Israel’, while Christians watch on from heaven, ‘spiritual Israel’. Those categories cannot be discovered from scripture, they are relatively modern inventions. By way of response we note that Jesus was Jewish, that he ministered mainly to Jews,that the early church was 100% Jewish and that Paul always went ‘to the Jew first’. These ideas are far from being biblical.
History tells is that, from the human perspective, terrorism works. We can read in our Bibles of the threats fropm the Babylonian king against Jerusalem and contemporary records tell us how the victors treated those who challenged them. Rome was no different; the practice of crucifixion, an appallingly cruel punishment, was designed to deter. Much later, in the history of the church, we have the ‘Inquisition’, where what passed for Christianity was actually Imperial power exercised within a belief system in order to maintain control. In some respects Karl Marx was not wrong.
It can be argued that terrorism doesn’t really work because terrorists are eventually overturned. The argument fails because it is usually other terrorists who do the overturning only to be replaced by others who have been waiting in the background to take their place. We see an example in the Russian Revolution. The terror of Tsarist imperialism was overturned by a relatively moderate group who were in turn destroyed by an extreme form of terrorism leading to the Soviet system of communism, (which, by the way, had little to do with Marx’s actual ideas).
Invoking Jesus, usually using in Revelation, in support of this kind of brutal warfare always involves a misreading of Scripture. As in the ‘rider on the white horse’ of Revelation chapter 19, who is sometimes used to justify cruel actions behalf of God. When we read carefully we discover a different message. The rider “makes war” and he has “a sharp sword, so that with it he could strike the nations”. But what actually do these verses in Revelation chapter 19 verses 11 to 16 Tell us? To begin with the passage contains a typically Johannine paradox, who is the rider? The one seated on the white horse was called “faithful and true” (verse 11), but he has a name “no one except himself knows” (verse 12). So we know what he is called, but we don’t know his name. Then we are told “his name is called word of God” (verse 13).
Clearly, this is Jesus, and the explanation is also clear if we have followed what John has already written. Jesus came as the one who was faithful and true, who alone had the right to open the scrolls, (Revelation chapter 5). Jesus is the faithful Israelite and ‘in righteousness (or justice) he judges and makes war’, (Rev. 19:11). Our inclination to take literally what was intended symbolically can lead us into trouble here. Sometimes our translators don’t help as for instance when the Greek word for ‘Shepherd’ is translated as ‘rule’, (Verse 15). The rider’s outer garment is dipped in blood, whereas the army that follows is in pure white; what does this mean? Because he is faithful, because of God’s righteous justice, he is now known: he is God’s word, which is a major clue to what follows. The sword that he, Jesus — the Lamb — wields is “out of his mouth”: ‘word of God’ and ‘out of his mouth’. There’s nothing here to suggest that Jesus is holding a sword in his hand and killing people left and right. The blood of the Lamb and of the saints together with God’s word, both spoken and lived (righteousness) is all that is needed to defeat evil.
There are further clues to understanding in John’s revelation. Later in this chapter in verse 21 it is the representatives of the power who are killed by the sword, and just to be clear John reports again “the sword that comes out of his mouth”. Throughout Revelation and consistently within the New Testament evil is defeated through the self-denying death of the son of God, Jesus. That is incomprehensible to the powerful and wealthy. Is it conceivable that evil could be defeated by evil? Often we are presented with a choice, the lesser of two evils. That is a matter for secular power, it is not a choice Christians should make. When, sometimes, we have no choice — as in voting for our secular representatives — we should then engage with those choices as biblically consistent Christians.
As followers of ‘The Way’ we surely know that God’s way was the only way: It remains the only way. It is why Jesus followers are called to “take up their cross”; it is why those who persist in patience and faith conquer, doing so through the word of God and the blood of the Lamb.
Terrorism works, but only if we let it, only if we turn to terrorising in order to confront terrorism. That is not a Christian option. The Christian way is the tough call to self-sacrificing love. Jesus, son of God, came, taught, healed and died, and there is no other way by which the world can be saved.
Those who claim that the establishment of Israel is the outworking of God’s promise to Israel have to show how that fits the outworking of God’s purpose. How does Israel fit with the requirement of God’s people to bless the world through righteousness and justice? How does Israel, the modern state, accord with the prophetic promises a restoration based on repentance and the New enduring Covenant of the new heart. How does it fit with God’s purpose to renew creation through his renewed people, both Jew and non-Jew, foreseen under the Old Covenant and established in the New? How can we claim to be God’s renewed and spirit-filled people when we celeberate, even promote, the division Jesus came to heal, (Galatians chapters 3 and 4, amongst others)?
God has only ever had one undivided people for ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God in Messiah Jesus’. Let us say “No” to terror from wherever it comes, but especially from we who know God’s peace.